Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Ben Aaronovitch has created an unforgettable and magical world in his Rivers of London series, and despite being the latest entry, What Abigail Did That Summer is an excellent presentation of what the series has to offer for anyone new to it. Flashing back to the summer of 2013, we follow the titular Abigail as she attempts to solve the mystery of recently-disappeared teenagers who remain silent about the ordeal upon their return.
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Ben Aaronovitch Focuses on a Slice of his Realm
The majority of us grow up believing in the idea of magic being unquestionably real, a perception we all end up shedding as time goes by and we grow older. However, the love for magic remains, and I believe many of us wouldn’t be disappointed if it was proven to exist. Until then, we can fantasize about the topic, as does Ben Aaronovitch in his recent novel, What Abigail Did That Summer.
Before talking about the book itself, it is part of a series called the Rivers of London, and is the eleventh entry into the series, but I believe it actually serves as a great entry point into the whole thing, a point I shall elaborate on below.
The story begins by taking us back all the way to the summer of 2013, where Abigail Kamara finds herself lacking for adventure, but only for a short little while. While her cousin, the police constable and wizard Peter Grant, is off chasing unicorns, a rather pressing matter grips the town of Hampstead Heath.
A large number of teenagers from around the town suddenly vanished without saying a word or leaving a trace. However, before the police can actually get started on the investigation, they all return completely unharmed, but also uncooperative and keeping silence about what happened to them.
Being just the kind of mystery Abigail is made to solve, she takes up the reigns of the investigation, having a few advantages over the regular police. For one, she can whisper to foxes and a posse of them is willing to aid her, and two, she has the knowledge magic is real, an integral element in finding the truth behind the supernatural occurrence.
The Sidekick Takes the Spotlight in What Abigail Did That Summer
As I just mentioned it, despite being the latest entry in a long-standing series of books, it feels to me like a good entry point into the strange, beautiful and magical world Ben Aaronovitch created many years ago. The principal reason for it is the fact the story is essentially a flashback taking us years back and removing the main character from view, while giving the spotlight to someone less important.
Up until now, there has been a decent amount of mystery and questions surrounding Abigail, her story, and what led her to becoming such a caring and independent woman, and we see them all answered in this excursion into her past. In the process, we also get to familiarize ourselves with the world where the Rivers of London series takes place.
While I will readily admit there certainly isn’t enough room for exposition to cover all which has been presented in the previous novels, the important elements are explained, and the ones briefly mentioned in passing did a good job of drumming up my curiosity for the setting and the hidden depths it holds.
Though up until now she has largely served as Peter Grant’s sidekick throughout the series, it doesn’t take her long to settle in the boots of the main character. While she might not be an adult, make no mistake: this isn’t a story about a child. Her thoughts, plans, desires and behaviours are far beyond what you’d expect for her age.
It was quite interesting to see her character in action, developing through the ordeal, growing and maturing a fair bit from start to finish, and dare I say, making a case for more future novels with her as the protagonist.
The Mystery of the Silent Teenagers
As far as the plot itself is concerned, it very much works as a standalone, presenting it as a side-case to the rest of the series, a curious little interlude to the larger flow of events. The mystery is carefully presented without any rush, and we are given a chance to absorb the situation and try to think about it until the actual investigation begins.
Personally, I’ve always enjoyed stories about inexplicable disappearances, so I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise I was hooked by the premise rather easily. More importantly though, Aaronovitch shows his great ability in developing the thread of an investigation, slowly stringing us along through increasingly significant revelations.
At first, the pace might feel rather slow and a bit too steady, but once the stage is set the author spends more time on advancing the plot than anything else. Watching Abigail work from one clue to the next and using all the available resources at her disposal makes this piece of paranormal & urban fiction feel like a thriller at times.
One remarkable aspect of the story, in my opinion at least, is how little magical powers Abigail is given to work with while faced with a supernatural situation. Her only ability to speaking with foxes, and besides this she must entirely rely on her own wits and intellect to outmanoeuvre opponents far more capable than herself, at least on paper.
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Without spoiling the end of the story, the resolution to the whole conundrum did feel quite satisfying and even had a few memorable surprises in store along the way. I felt the mystery was captivating in its own right, and would have even made this book worth reading if it was a completely standalone adventure.
The Final Verdict
What Abigail Did That Summer by Ben Aaronovitch is a truly excellent work of fiction set in a subtly magical world, taking a detour from the main course of the Rivers of London series to solve a captivating mystery led by an interesting and lovable protagonist who makes the most of her time in the spotlight. If you’re looking for a solid piece of paranormal & urban fiction and are curious to see what the Rivers of London series has to offer, then I highly recommend you give this book a read.
Ben Dylan Aaronovitch
Ben Dylan Aaronovitch an English screenwriter and author most well-known for the Rivers of London series, not to mention he wrote two Doctor Who serials in the late 1980s.
He also wrote the Blake’s 7 audio drama, as well as a number of other novels including Transit, The Also People, and What Abigail Did That Summer.